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Advice / Job Search / Networking

7 Ways to Make Sure You Get the Most Out of Any Guest Speaker

group listening to speech

Ever sat through a guest speaker at a work conference and used that time to make your grocery list? How about brushed up on your doodling skills? While these distracting behaviors are undoubtedly a common occurrence, they’re not typical of everyone attending a presentation or speaking event. Some people actually leave speeches rejuvenated, with a new sense of purpose.

Not everyone can move a crowd like Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, or Richard Branson, but you can learn at least one thing (and hopefully much more) from every presentation you hear—regardless of whether it’s a big-name person or a relative unknown. Here are seven ways to transition from simply being in attendance to seizing the opportunity and finding real inspiration no matter who’s at the podium.

1. Do Your Homework in Advance

Take a few minutes to find out not only who’s speaking, but what the person’s background is. What’s he or she known for? How is he or she qualified? When you understand what the speaker’s bringing to the table, you can set yourself up well to receive information that’s useful to you wherever you are on your career path.

2. Arrive Early for a Good Seat

Sit where you’re comfortable. It’s a myth that “smart guys sit in the front and slackers in the back.” If you’re happy front and center, grab that spot. If you’re comfortable in the back, that’s just fine too, and if you need an aisle seat to be content, better get there early to claim it.

3. Find Camaraderie With the People Sitting Next to You

It’s much easier to absorb a message when you’re in a pleasurable environment, and a part of this is determined by who’s around you. Bonding with your neighbors can create a snowball effect of positivity. So either have your buddies save you a seat, or introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you and quickly make a new friend.

4. Minimize Distractions and Take Notes

Focus! Be in the moment. Even if everyone around you has a laptop open, it doesn’t mean you should also bury yourself in your emails or the spreadsheet due by the end of the week. Take notes—they can be messy and disjointed so long as you can understand them later—about anything that sounds meaningful to you.

5. Personalize the Message

A good speaker always puts focus on connecting with the crowd. You should direct attention toward receiving the message and applying it to your life. A friend once told me, “You can learn something from every single person you meet.” Write down a couple of key takeaways that you can bring back to the office and use to strengthen your everyday routine. Or, use the message to brainstorm an outside the box solution for a problem you may be facing or to start a new initiative in the workplace.

6. Take Pics and Post

Use social media to your advantage. Post a pic of the speaker or event on Twitter to increase internal excitement and drive external discussion among your network. As you’ve likely noticed, a lot of events these days will have a hashtag associated with them that you’re encouraged to use.

7. Contact the Speaker

Reach out via email or social media and express your gratitude. What person wouldn’t appreciate confirmation that his message connected with the audience? Don’t be surprised if the contact even leads to a new relationship. A few weeks ago, I was inspired while attending a local speaking engagement.

Later, I reached out to the speaker via email and an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. I explained how the speech helped me gain perspective relating to my current career situation and that I would love to take her to coffee or lunch if her schedule allowed. A week later, we met up and chatted for two hours. I left with a new mentor.

Hopefully, following these seven steps leads to inspiration. But, let’s say you apply them and still don’t feel inspired. Don’t stress it—you’ll soon find yourself engaged with someone else if you follow these tips and really force yourself to be present. All major cities and plenty of small towns have abundant opportunities to hear guest speakers who are experts on a number of topics.

And, if you don’t feel like leaving home, no worries, check out these eight TED Talks that will inspire you even on your day off.

Put in the effort and transition from just attending to getting something out of your time: You won’t be sorry.